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Wild Duo Spearheading Youth Movement for Finland

Still in their mid-20s, Haula and Granlund are two of the older players on a roster trending younger

by Evan Sporer / Special to Wild.com

TORONTO - On the Minnesota Wild, forwards Erik Haula, age 25, and Mikael Granlund, age 24, are considered part of a young core. 

In Finnish years, they're much older. 

"I feel old myself right now," said Granlund, sitting next to Haula in a room full of their teammates, virtually all of them younger. 

Finnish hockey is going through something of a transition. Gone is its Mount Rushmore of the last generation, the likes of Teemu Selanne, Kimmo Timonen, Jere Lehtinen and Teppo Numminen. 

Granlund and Haula's Wild teammate, Mikko Koivu, is one of the only holdovers. But in their mid-20s, Haula and Granlund see themselves as old men. Nine players who dressed in Finland's opening game against Team North America are younger than the two Wild forwards.

"It's great, and it's great for Finnish hockey when guys like that come up," Granlund said. 

It also allows for Granlund and Haula to take on bigger roles for their country. It's something Wild management and coaches have charged its young core with. 

And both Haula and Granlund took steps in the right direction last season, especially down the stretch. Now they're hoping the 2016 World Cup can serve as a bridge between where they left off a season ago and starting off on the right foot ahead of the upcoming NHL season. 

"You want to focus on this tournament right now, but you can take something out of it and use it to your advantage," Haula said. "Every guy who's here, they're going to be playing games that are for sure more intense than maybe more intense than training camp games. 

"We'll be playing in at least six games, and everyone should just use that to [their] advantage."

Haula in particular parlayed a hot finish to the NHL regular season to a spot in Toronto on Finland's roster. 

The story goes that when the Wild reconfigured its forward lines in mid-February, Haula ended up playing with Nino Niederreiter and Jason Pominville. Over the final 27 games of the season, Haula had nine goals and 12 assists, an 82-game point average of about 64. 

Through the first 49 games he played on a different line, Haula had five goals and eight assists. 

Haula ended up being named to Finland's roster in its final round of additions May 27. 

Granlund, who was an original selection for this Finnish team, always seems to produce when representing his country. 

He's hoping to put his latest stamp on the 2016 tournament when Finland plays Russia on Thursday. The Finns have been eliminated from semifinal round contention, but can do their part to spoil the World Cup for the Russians by getting a victory.

"It's special. Every Finnish player, it's a special feeling when you get to represent Team Finland," Granlund said. "It's a unique feeling. It's always a really close group we have, and everyone takes pride in that. It's fun because we're such a close group." 

And while the World Cup serves as a bridge for Granlund and Haula into the 2016-17 season, Granlund and Haula are also the bridge between the old generation of Finnish hockey and the new tweeners in their mid-20s who have all of a sudden become veterans. 

But the dynamic among teammates, Haula said, has not been an issue.

"Everyone should just be themselves," he said. "That's when the team has been together in the past: when everyone is just themselves. Everyone knows how to be around everybody, and it's not really rocket science. 

"When I first went in the Wild locker room, you just try to watch and learn as much as possible. I'm sure our younger guys are watching our older guys, and it's all positive stuff."

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